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Socio-legal Studies




Admission requirements


Course description

This course provides an introduction into the field of socio-legal studies, in which legal issues and phenomena are approached from a multi- or interdisciplinary perspective. Important insights and findings from the field will be examined, as well as the methodologies employed to bring these about. The focus of this field is that of “law in action”.

Key (predominantly socio-legal ) readings on “law in action” in different countries and settings will be examined. Questions that will be addressed include:

  • What functions does law have in society? Does law represent society’s consensus, is it helpful to advance the interests of the poor or does it rather serve the interests of the rich and powerful?

  • What is the social production and what is the social working of law?

  • How do law and social change relate to each other – can law be used to bring about social change?

  • Why do people obey the law?

  • How, when and why is law (not) invoked to resolve disputes?

Through these and other questions this course explores the ways in which law and society mutually affect and shape each other, and the roles that social context, structure and power play in this regard.

Weekly overview

Week 1 Introduction: perspectives, concepts, questions and methods.
Week 2 Law’s functions
Week 3 Law and social change, social change and legal development
Week 4 Implementation of laws and (un)intended consequences
Week 5 Dispute resolution: social contexts, attitudes and forums
Week 6 Access to justice
Week 7 Law and power

Learning objectives

  • to acquire knowledge of important concepts, themes and theories within the field of socio-legal studies.

  • to gain an understanding of law’s different functions in connection with different visions of society.

  • to gain an understanding of various ways in which law can bring about social change and ways in which legal change is brought about.

  • to gain an understanding of contexts and factors that shape the ways in which legal rules are used, invoked and followed.

Mode of instruction

The course uses a variety of teaching methods, including (interactive) lecturing, student presentations, web postings, class discussion and debate. Teaching materials include readings as well as video and film clips.

Compulsory textbook

The required and recommended reading will be listed in the course syllabus and will be made available on blackboard. For some of the assessments students will have to do their own literature research.

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